Top Science-Backed Health Benefits of Cryo
Cryotherapy is an alternative treatment and preventive practice in which the whole body or a part of it is exposed to an extremely cold temperature in a controlled environment such as a cryotherapy chamber.
A brief exposure to freezing or near-freezing cold triggers a number of physiological changes in the body that contribute to your health. Several studies have found that cryotherapy (below -100͒℃) influences your body’s hormonal and immune functions, reduce pain and inflammation, boost immune function and delay aging. Exposure to extremely cold temperatures as in cold water exposure (down to 1℃) can also to a lesser degree also help to reduce pain and inflammation, boost immune function and delay aging.
Cryo for Relieving Pain and Reducing Inflammation
It is increasingly becoming clear that chronic low-grade inflammation could contribute to a plethora of long-term illnesses. For example, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, elevated blood pressure, diabetes, and others.
While an acute inflammation might not be too serious, a long-term inflammation is surely something to worry about. Sedentary lifestyle, smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, and high-sugar diet are some common preventable causes of chronic inflammation.
However, most of us cannot expect to change our habits overnight. For this reason, cryo can be an effective and safer alternative to reduce both pain and inflammation while we work on improving our habits.
Studies have found that, in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, cryo works wonders to reduce pain and inflammation. Moreover, it also contributes to slow down the disease progression. In one study that looked at the effect of cryo on the levels of an inflammatory marker called CRP, participants who underwent cryo session were found to experience a greater degree of pain relief and reduction in inflammation compared to those who received no cryo.
In addition, researchers who looked at how centenarians (100), semi supercentenarians (105+) and supercentenarians (110+) lived a disease-free life for long durations, found some astonishing results. Most notably, they found that the levels of inflammatory substances were lower in those who lived a relatively healthy life and had a competent brain function. Simply put, having low inflammation is a clear sign that you are more likely to live longer and have fewer problems with cognitive decline in later years.
The Link between Cryo and Norepinephrine Explained
Norepinephrine, also called noradrenaline, is a brain chemical that serves as both a neurotransmitter and hormone. It is best known for its effect on the heart during a perceived or real threat.
When we look beyond the heartbeat-boosting effects of norepinephrine, we find that it is a powerful natural anti-inflammatory substance. Norepinephrine breaks the chain of inflammatory reactions by reducing the release of several pro-inflammatory chemicals, most notably, tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha) and macrophage inflammatory protein1α (MIP1α). Both these harmful substances have been implicated in promoting systemic inflammation.
At this point, it is critically important to note TNF alpha shares a close link with many chronic illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and certain types of cancer. Likewise, macrophage inflammatory protein1α (MIP1α) is thought to play a key role in the development of autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
So how can cryo help to boost this potent inflammation-fighting substance?
According to several studies, getting exposed to extremely cold temperatures can increase the health effects of norepinephrine by whopping FIVE FOLD! Note that the effects of natural epinephrine and cold-induced epinephrine are almost identical. For this reason, it makes a perfect sense why winter-swimming or cold water immersion is such a great idea to boost epinephrine and reap the benefits of reduced inflammation. If 20 minutes in ice water is not your cup of tea, a cryo session is definitely worth a try.
Whole Body or Local Cryotherapy for Arthritis?
If the pain and swelling in the joints are crippling you, you should definitely consider trying cryo. Also, learn why both whole body and local cryo are great for arthritis.
- Whole body cryo for arthritis.
One of the most notable effects of whole body cryo on your system is the reduction of systemic inflammation. Because arthritis has its roots in inflammation, cryo can work wonders for arthritis patients.
One randomized controlled trial that involved patients with arthritis, investigators found that whole body cryotherapy at 166°F (110°C) for 23 minutes three times a week for 1 week resulted in significant pain reduction. Extreme temperatures reduce inflammation by decreasing pro-inflammatory substances like cytokines, while also boosting anti-inflammatory substances like norepinephrine.
- Local Cryo for arthritis.
Think local cryo just provides a cooling sensation? No, it has more to do than just cooling the body parts.
Local cryotherapy helps to reduce both local and systemic inflammation. Most importantly, the anti-inflammatory effect is seen in the gene as well as the protein level. Thus, cryo can be an easy-to-use therapy for lowering the blood levels of inflammatory proteins such as collagen and also down-regulating their gene expression.
Moreover, various studies have also noted that local cryo has a strong inhibitory effect on the inflammatory substances called E2 series prostaglandins.
Due to its incredible health benefits and pain-reducing properties, many researchers encourage use cryo as an adjunct in the regenerative treatment of osteoarthritis
Is Brain Inflammation the Reason for Low Mood and How Cryo Can Help
It seems very likely that inflammatory chemicals play a key role in causing low moods as well as increasing the risk of anxiety and depression. This is because pro-inflammatory substances such as such as TNF alpha and the E2 series prostaglandins can actually reach the brain by crossing the blood brain barrier. Once inside the brain, they can trigger a further inflammatory response by activating brain’s immune cells known as microglia.
Another reason why inflammatory substances can contribute to depression and anxiety is that they can interfere with the release of certain brain chemicals that regulate mood, memory and sleep such as serotonin. Decreased brain levels of serotonin have been linked to anxiety and depression.
All things considered, whole body cryo or cold water immersion can be a simple yet highly effective measure to prevent anxiety and depression for two reasons. First, it reduces systemic inflammation and promotes the release of neuroprotective substances like norepinephrine. Second, it can also promote the release of serotonin by reducing inflammation.
Cryo for Immune Boost and Delayed Aging
How can cryo reduce inflammation while also boost the immune function? Understanding this can be tricky. Let’s simplify.
Your immune function is the most competent to fight off infections when it has an optimal number of immune cells. That said, too many infection-fighting cells in the body can mean elevated inflammation. On the other hand, fewer than normal immune cells can make you more prone to infections. Thus, an overall health depends on the balance between unnecessary inflammation and necessary competence to fight off harmful microorganisms.
Cryo or cold water immersion works to reduce inflammation (through the mechanisms mentioned earlier in the article) and also regulates your immune function to ensure that external microorganisms have very little chance to invade the body’s defense mechanisms.
This is evident from experimental findings which suggest long-term cold water immersion (3 times a week for 6 weeks) in healthy males can increase lymphocyte numbers. This explains why habitual winter swimmers have more WBCs (white blood cells) than occasional winter swimmers.
These findings are further supported by other studies that found:
- Exposure to cold temperature (41°F or 5°C) boosted the blood levels cancer-fighting immune cells called cytotoxic T lymphocytes.
- A 30-minute exposure to 4°C increased the number of level of activity of specialized immune cells called natural killer T cell. In addition, it also lowered the core body temperature by around 0.45°C. Keep in mind that natural T killer cells destroy viruses and cancer cells.
- Winter swimming decreased the incidence of respiratory tract infections by almost half. Also, anecdotal reports suggest that winter swimmers might get fewer episodes of cold and flu than their non-swimming counterparts.
Coming to the aging process, it occurs or accelerates when your immune cells are so low in number that they cannot clear the nonfunctional cells from the system. Thus, having a good number of immune cells is a natural way to slow down the aging process as long as you take care not to overstimulate the immune cells.
Does Cryo Boost Antioxidant Enzymes?
Exposing your body to cold can stimulate your body’s natural antioxidant enzymes such as glutathione reductase and superoxide dismutase. Interestingly, cryo can be more effective than many antioxidant supplements.
Antioxidant enzymes protect the cells and DNA from the negative effects of free radicals or reactive oxygen species (ROS) which have been linked to accelerated aging and increased risk of heart disease, cancer, and other chronic illnesses.
In one study, a 3-minute cryo session at 202°F (−130°C) each day for 20 days increased the activity of glutathione reductase by 100%, and superoxide dismutase by nearly 43% in young male participants.
Kimberly Daugherty is owner of Arctic Glow Cryospa in downtown Seattle, WA. A long time integrative bodyworker and alternative medicine advocate, she focuses on bringing well documented but under-represented holistic modalities such as cryotherapy to the local wellness community.